"To preserve the reputation of the Fraternity unsullied must be your constant care."

Monday, November 18, 2019

Shriners, Fezzes, Symbolism and the Blunt Object of Corporate Censorship

You can't keep up with with the pop culture these days without a scorecard app. In truth, you probably need five or six apps on two different smartphones plus a desktop version just to keep up to date.

The Disney Corporation launched its new highly-touted video streaming service this past week, and in their infinite wisdom to appear suitably angelic to the world, they've been hard at work apologizing for or plastering over past perceived wrongthinking and insensitivity. Disney's old movies, TV shows and cartoons are now accompanied by disclaimer notices like "This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.”

But the Disney programs aren't being kept "as created," and many have just plain been edited with potentially 'offensive' sequences and images altered or removed entirely. The result has been an international anvil chorus of hoots of derision against Disney, with an almost equal and opposite clamor that they edit even more out. But editing and censoring the past is a fool's errand that ultimately makes no one happy, and arguably, increasingly ignorant of even the recent past. Sorry, but I'm a big believer that understanding the whys and wherefores and the history of the past is a whole lot more successful and influential than attempting to eliminate every possible trace of it. Call me crazy. 

These just aren't old Mickey Mouse cartoons, Peter Pan's depictions of Indians, Dumbo's black crows, or the forever embargoed Song of the South. Now fans of the very recent Disney cartoon series Gravity Falls are calling foul. It seems that the show's character Grunkle Stan's distinctive Shriner-like fez symbol has just been given over to Disney's internal Winston Smiths for erasure in their Soviet-style Great Purge treatment. 

They did it for a bizarre reason that has nothing to do with sensitivity to Shriners. Funny thing about symbols. Interpreting them gets tricky depending on who packed the baggage you're carrying around. It seems that the offending symbol, which looks vaguely like a cartoon fish, is considered by Disney to be religiously 'offensive' or 'insensitive.' Yet not to practitioners of the religious faith that has used the fish as a symbol for 2,000 years. 

Digitally censored fez from the opening credits of Gravity Falls

Outrage. Outrage, you're supposed to be howling.

I'm sure most Shriners neither know about any of this, nor care one bit (besides perhaps my friend Seth Andrews who eats, sleeps and breathes all things in Fezdom - visit his online Museum of Fezology). It's a fair bet that no more than 100 Shriners have even heard of Gravity Falls at all. 

On the surface, this isn't new. Warner Brothers has put up a 'warning label' like this for years with their old classic Looney Toons and Merrie Melodies cartoons, but at least they've been left intact. It's like a 'Don't drink and drive' notice that means 'Don't watch and get pissed off over something made 75 years ago because life's too short not to laugh at funny cartoons.'


MGM walked the tightrope by mostly leaving their old cartoons visually intact, but dubbing out 'offensive' voices and dialects and replacing them with more generic ones, as in old Tom & Jerry cartoons with their 'Mammy Two Shoes' character. She was originally voiced by African-American actress Lillian Randolph back in the 1930s and usually only seen from the ankles down - often swatting at the cat with a broom and threatening to lock him out of the house. She was implied to be Tom's owner and the head of the household, and so her feet and voice popped up in a lot of the shorts over the years. In the 1960s, the black legs and ankles were re-colored white and a female Irish-accented voice was recorded for some of the episodes. By the 1990s, the original images were brought back, and the voice was re-dubbed again, this time by African-American comedian Thea Vidale, minus the over the top dialect.

But Disney seems to want to try a little of both methods - reediting and outright removal - and they're doing an inept dance step version of it by catching some, missing others, or concentrating on odd choices like the Gravity Falls fez symbol. Like I said, this has nothing to do with perceived hurt feelings among Shriners.

Freemasons rarely show up in these types of animated or artistic depictions, but Shriners or their visual stand-ins sometimes do. And nobody has ever really found a reason to get worked up over it.
Grant Wood's Shrine Quartet (1939)
The Shrine's reputation as a wacky group of booze-guzzling, girl-ogling, stripper-tipping, middle-class party boys engaging in hooliganism with a generous heart o' gold was cemented in the 1950s and 60s, and were a shorthand for American fraternalism for more than half a century.  

"Oh my dear Lord! They blackballed Howard Sprague!"
Fez wearing WASPS show up in everything from Bye-Bye Birdie and the Andy Griffith Show, to the penultimate Top 40 Shriner anthem, Ray Stevens' 'Shriner's Convention.'

Fraternal groups and goofy headgear were commonplace objects of comedy over the years, from the 'Mystic Knights of the Sea' in the wildly popular Amos and Andy radio show in the late 20s and 30s (created by real-life Masons Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll) and depicted in the early 1950s TV version; the Raccoon Lodge of The Honeymooners with Jackie Gleason; and the Loyal Order of Water Buffalo Lodge No. 26 on the Flintstones in the 1960s. 

Mystic Knights of the Sea lodge on the Amos and Andy TV series in 1952

Raccoon Lodge in The Honeymooners

Loyal Order of Water Buffalos in The Flintstones
As was acknowledged in the 1986 comedy Peggy Sue Got Married, "Wouldn't be a lodge without hats."

It wasn't really until the 1990s that the Shriners started to get grouped in with the kind of spooky connections to "ancient mystic rites" like the Masons - even if only as parody. Ironically, that was just about the same time that the Shrine changed its name from the suitably bilious 'Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine' to just plain Shriners International. 

Todd Schorr's painting, Secret Mystic Rites in the Temple of Fraternity (1993)
By the 1990s, the 50's and 60's "cocktail culture" nostalgia made a resurgence, and Shriners' fezzes started getting snapped up on Ebay by modern cigar lounge lizards. Artist Todd Schorr populated his artwork with fez-wearers, and the swing band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy adopted his imagery on their albums to cement the connection between nightclub swing music, cocktail culture, and Shriner stand-ins with 'All Seeing Eye" symbolism. 

Todd Schorr's Temple of Delirium (1991)
Between 2010-2013, even the Eleventh Dr. Who (played by Matt Smith) began wearing a fez as he traveled through time. "Because," as he said, "fezzes are cool."

Images like this suddenly morphed the Shriners into an odd combination of middle-aged goofiness with "secret wisdom of the ages," because as we all know, there's always supposed to be some special wisdom about Life, the Universe and Everything at the bottom of an empty glass - if only we drink enough. 

Still looking.

Of course, there have long been criticisms from various corners about the Shrine's 19th century take on tarted-up Orientalism with its images, costumes, rituals, and even local Shrine names. Practicioners of the Muslim faith and those living in Muslim countries don't think it's a bit funny that Shrines have names that are parodies or lifts of Arabic words or place names like Scimitar, Mecca, Bagdad, Wahabi, phony pseudo Arabic names like 'Moolah,' 'Lu Lu,' 'Zem Zem,' and even holy objects like Al Koran or Kaaba

It all came from  a much earlier age, and modern sensibilities have gotten extraordinarily humorless and hyper-sensitive when they are on the receiving end of even a mild a jibe today. With a group like the Shrine, it was never about insulting anyone and always about sounding more exotic and more over the top than any other run of the mill fraternal group did in the late 1800s.

Anyway, back to Disney and that fez. 

From the end credits of Gravity Falls

Gravity Falls was a cartoon that ran on Disney XD between 2012 and 2016. It told the mis-adventures of Dipper and Mabel Pines, a pair of twins who spent their summer vacation with their uncle, Grunkle Stan, in the odd Oregon town of Gravity Falls. There they all encountered all manner of the weird and the unexplained like ghosts, shape-shifters, and frozen dead presidents. Episodes contained clues and visual tidbits to solve an ongoing series of puzzles, not entirely un-derivative of National Treasure by way of Twin Peaks, Eerie, Indiana and Winky-Dink and You - all laid over a theme very much like Pokemon.

As we used to say in advertising, "Where do good ideas come from? SOMEBODY ELSE!"

The show's creator Alex Hirsch actively stoked puzzle hunts on Twitter among the show's fans, and pseudo-Masonic and Shriner imagery began to proliferate.

Alex Hirsch's Twitter clue that set the hunt in motion

Fan art from Japan by @nyankun1
The character of Grunkle Stan prominently wore a fez, and for the longest time it sported a nonsensical image that looked vaguely like a Pepperidge farm goldfish cracker (or a Pac-Man swallowing a power dot). Indeed, it was revealed that Grunkle Stan was, in fact, a fez-wearing member of the 'Royal Order of the Holy Mackerel.' But according to fans and the Gizmodo website, the censors at Disney have been at hard at work in their Yezhovshchina censorship office and tediously removed the fish symbol by digital trickery from the show's first thirteen episodes and opening credits for broadcast on the new streaming service.

You'd think that if anyone was in danger of having their religious sensitivities brushed in the wrong direction by a cartoon use of fish symbolism it would be Christianity, which used the fish as visual shorthand and an identifier as far back as Rome. But no.

The symbol looks vaguely like a rotated parody of the actual emblem of the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, sort of, minus the scimitar. And then you begin to see the root of the problem. Because the crescent and star on the Shriner's symbol is an echo of the famous 'star and crescent' found across the Middle East, turned sideways. That was because that region of the world was the fictional source of the Shrine's mythology in the first place.

If you poke around enough, you'll find that the source of the desperate need to scrape this obscure cartoon image from an obscure corner of the obscure culture is that somebody, somewhere did indeed make the executive decision that the imaginary symbol of the 'Royal Order of the Holy Mackerel' was just a little too close in their hunt for hyperactive offensiveness to the star and crescent symbol found in many flags of Islamic nations, like that of Turkey. It was originally the symbol of the Ottoman Empire, and other Arabic nations have incorporated it. Yet, it's NOT a symbol denoting Islam itself, as the religion forbids symbols and iconography of any kind as being blasphemous.

The national flag of Turkey
But the American-based Nation of Islam does feature it prominently on their flag and website almost as a logo. Theirs is turned the opposite direction from Turkey's and that convinced the Disney censors to deem it the cartoon mackerel religiously offensive to the NOI. Even though you'd have to squint and peer through two sets of solar eclipse sunglasses from 1000 yards to make that connection. Along with thinking that it was making fun of the religious symbol in the first place, which it never did.
Some have said that the censorship first appeared when the show was being syndicated in foreign countries, but The Mighty Mouse has refused to comment about it at all. 

Oh the outrage. It wears a fella out.

Meanwhile, now that a little clot of fans have roared their online displeasure (there have to be at least a few dozen fans of anything this obscure), citing Disney's imperfect censorship has spread throughout all of Internet nerdom. They have been pointing out all week long that the Holy Mackerel on Grunkle Stan's fez still appears on numerous thumbnail images on Disney's service, so it's descended into the usual obsessive game of a-HA-ism and noisy declarations of HY-pocracy that so characterizes the current era we have the misfortune of experiencing right now.

I will take this odd opportunity to call to attention one last bit of past pop culture in case there are any advertising geniuses at the Shriners International headquarters in Tampa. They'd be silly not to take advantage of my dazzling ad man expertice, but what else is new.

Back in the 1960s when the pseudo-adult cartoon The Flintstones was airing in prime-time and parents watched it along with their kids, Shriners Hospitals did a series of advertising tie-in commercials that featured Fred Flintstone.

The MeTV network today airs on local over-the-air broadcast TV stations these days (usually as a side-band digital channel for one of the four major networks), and they just started airing the Flintstones cartoons as part of their evening schedule. The network is essentially a nostalgic station that is laser-focussed on Baby Boomer-aged viewers, and requires no cable hookup in most markets. They don't even offer a live streaming app, in part to protect local stations and their shrinking advertising streams from dilution. 

The Flintstones Shriners commercials were designed to include contemporary footage from the hospitals back in the 1960s, and that could very easily be reedited today with new footage and contact graphics. 

Hey Tampa - how about modifying these old ads just for targeted airing on MeTV to its perfect audience of retirees who are potential new members and donors?

Just sayin.'

H/T to Jon Ruark. Blame him.

Thank You All

Many thanks to the quite literally hundreds of birthday wishes posted on Facebook and elsewhere yesterday, or sent privately. I am truly humbled by this outpouring, and I do appreciate it.

For those keeping score, I'm 61 this year, despite my boyish good looks and too much hair for my advancing dotage. I fear that you're all stuck with me for a while longer, based on my odds. From a purely genetics point of view, my father died at 94, and my mother turns 91 in January with no sign of slowing down, which means someone in the future will probably have to smother me with a pillow before I drop voluntarily. 

Just in case you want to make plans or shop for a pillow.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Looking For Help Outside the Lodge To Save Your Temple

Rifle Lodge 126 in Rifle, Colorado (just down the road apiece from the town of Parachute) has been working with the Colorado Historical Society and their town council to help preserve their century-old lodge.

You gotta love Western U.S. town names.

For more than ten years, Brother Ron Roesener and others at Rifle Lodge have been dealing with the same problems so many other Masons have throughout the country. Shrinking membership, tighter money, and an aging building have all combined to take their toll on their Masonic hall that has been central to their town ever since 1914.

An article on the Post Independent website on Wednesday by reporter Kyle Mills interviewed Brother Roesener and explains his innovative hunt for resources outside the lodge for the last decade. It's well worth reading:

One step into the Masonic Lodge on Railroad Avenue is like a trip back in time, turning the clock back decades.

Craftsmanship and ornate wood details surround the old stairway and wrap-around the doorways. Two large classic Westinghouse stoves fill the small kitchen on the main floor.
For nearly a decade now Ron Roesener, a 32nd Degree Mason from Parachute, has been working to save the home to the Freemason Lodge No. 129 in Rifle.

Roesener said at one point in time the lodge had 378 members.

“We currently have about 50 members, a lot of whom are in nursing homes right now,” Roesener said. “We have enough that we can have bi-monthly meetings.”

With membership dipping over the years the lodge, which operates with the help of membership dues, has not been able to keep up with regular repairs.
Like many structures that are over a century old the building that houses the Masonic Lodge has fallen on hard time and is in need of updating and restoration.
“All the background and historical work I’ve done on it, at one time we owned most of the block the building is on,” Roesener said. “Having been opened in 1914 and in use since then on a regular basis, there has never been a time when it was shut down.”
A fourth-generation freemason, Roesener considers this a passion project.
He fought for two years to get historical recognition of the building from the city of Rifle.
Roesener is currently working with the Colorado Historical Society to secure grants to help with the project...
Read the whole article HERE.

When our lodge halls have had such a preeminent place in a community for so long, our Masonic halls eventually become much more than just a crumbling old clubhouse where the cranky old men hang out once a month. Our walls often are filled with rarely seen photos of the most important and influential men from our communities - frequently the very men who founded and built our towns in the first place. Our records contain treasure troves for genealogists and historians alike. Frequently, our architecture is historically significant and well-preserved. Because of our infamous resistance to change, our rooms are often a time capsule of bygone days that have otherwise disappeared from the landscape. 

Consequently, more and more historical and preservation societies are coming to the realization that the loss of a Masonic lodge means the loss of something so vital to preserving the fabric of their communities.

Downtown Rifle, Colorado

The Rifle Lodge and Brother Roesner make a perfect example. Thanks to his efforts, according to the article, the Colorado Historical Society has given the lodge $69,000 in preservation grants, and the county commissioners have kicked in another $10,000 from their discretionary funds. 

For too long, we Masons have felt we can still do all this on our own until reality sets in and we discover the financial aspect of preserving an old lodge can be crushing. Especially if there were never any plans for the future. More lodges are deciding that it's not demeaning to go outside of the fraternity to help save the shared heritage of a lodge and the community in which it resides.

But as brethren who have gone in search of grants will tell you, it takes time, work, and most of all, building relationships with vast numbers of people who have only a vague idea of who the Masons are anymore. Most know we are somehow 'important' and 'have always been there', and many may know their grandfather or other family members were Masons. But you may find resistance from some donors and foundations who have their own personal quirks and objections to the fraternity. That means the brethren who represent your lodge on these missions need to be knowledgeable, respectful, personable, dogged, and most of all, impervious to hurt feelings when doors slam or phones hang up abruptly. Not just anyone can do it. And they need to arrive with a businesslike plan for the money they're asking for, not just "We're short of cash for the roof." That stuff closes out of town.

Most important is that we as Masons need to get back into the habit again of asking our own brethren for financial help for the lodge from ourselves - before we look elsewhere. Peer into your lodge records and you will find countless times in the past that a Brother left money or property to your lodge in his will, or made a large gift to the lodge to handle a big-ticket expense. A century ago it was as common as a case of the DTs. Brethren lined up to support the building of new Masonic temples left and right, all the way up through the '29 Depression and beyond - and they built magnificent ones for the Ages that we still have now, but are losing quickly. Unfortunately, you'd be hard pressed today to find such gifts or bequests in more than a handful of lodges in your state. That's because we stopped asking our own members and let our industrial-sized charities within the fraternity and appendant bodies overtake the responsibilities we have for our Mother lodge, first and foremost.

What's important when we DO go looking for financial support within or without our own membership is that we make sure we aren't just asking for spare cash to heat the lodge for a once-a-month meeting of cheap old men who never venture out into the neighborhood and take part in civic life anymore. If we want the help of our towns and local foundations and non-Masonic donors, they need something from us in return. They need to know that the lodge isn't just our private clubhouse and that we were just too cheap to pay to replace our own carpet for ourselves. Open your lodge to your community - for youth groups, social organizations, health fairs, weight loss groups, dance lessons, English classes for new immigrants, weekend swap meets and yard sales, blood drives, pitch-in suppers and cookouts, day-lounge for seniors, or anything else you can think of. 

Welcome the whole community into your lodge, and soon you will find that they take ownership of it in their hearts, too. 

They might just join the lodge. 

And they might just decide the Masons and their hall are too vital to risk losing after all.

Chicago Columnist Spotlights Indiana Lodge in the Community

There was a very positive report in the Chicago Post-Tribune on November 1st, written by local columnist Jerry Davich, that highlighted the Brethren of Indiana's Glen Park Lodge 732 and its Master, Izzy De Jesus. Unlike so many typical drive-by treatments of the fraternity by so many reporters who have no idea who and what we are, Davich's was a refreshing, first-person account that demonstrates what Freemasons do, and how and why we are still important to our local communities.

It even made the front page.

What I love about this article is that it illustrates so much of what so many of us have experienced in our own lodges and communities. Note especially the reference to Masonic funerals: this was the very reason I joined the fraternity twenty-one years ago, because of my father-in-law's service. And the lodge's involvement in their town is exemplary.

From 'Psssttt... Masonic Freemasons’ secrets are not as mysterious as you think':
Cultural folklore and ancient organizations continue to be intrinsically woven into our modern day society. Look no further than the Freemasons, whose enigmatic history dates back to the Middle Ages with mysterious rituals, language, symbols and handshakes.
The well-known yet largely misunderstood fraternity still conjures images of a secret society from centuries ago. What do its members do at meetings? What kind of rituals are performed behind closed doors? Why are antiquated titles still used for leaders?

Outsiders have no clue. Ignorance breeds mystery. Secrets reproduce secrets. Fear creates rumors. This template of shadowy secrecy goes back eons about humankind.

“The brothers of Glen Park Lodge No. 732 have a message for the world – Freemasonry is not a secret society,” said Izzy De Jesus, the lodge’s Worshipful Master. “It is a fraternity of men who take good men and make them better.”
Not as puzzling as you thought, huh?
“It is a philanthropy group always looking for opportunities to make a difference in their communities, their countries, and the world,” De Jesus, of Valparaiso, told me...
I already had knowledge of Freemasonry since I had some family members involved in the fraternity,” [says Past Master and Secretary Jeff Robb]. “In addition to this, I was well aware that many founding fathers of this great country belonged to this wonderful fraternity, which always piqued my interests further.”
It wasn’t until his uncle’s funeral in 2011 when Robb took a deep dive into the fraternity. He witnessed more than 100 men from all walks of life, donned in white gloves and aprons, honoring his uncle’s life in a Masonic memorial service. Shortly afterward, he petitioned Glen Park Lodge No. 732 - his uncle’s lodge. He was accepted in 2012...
(So many lodges give little thought to readying and qualifying their members and officers for performing the funeral ritual well, which can happen at any time with no warning or preparation. Yet, the ability to perform the funeral service flawlessly, hopefully from memory, but certainly with emotion and understanding and confidence in front of a grieving room full of strangers is every bit as important as our degree rituals themselves - maybe even more so. So many times in the 21st century it is the first time the majority of the non-Masons in the room have ever encountered the Freemasons in their lives. The funeral ritual is almost like a pre-initiation introduction to all of the mourners and family in that room. And they will remember the service you and your members conducted quite possibly for the rest of their lives. 

Yeah. It's that important.)
I have met some the nicest people who I can call my brothers since having joined freemasonry,” Robb said. “I know I could call on one of my brothers if I ever needed assistance and they would not hesitate to lend a helping hand.”He cites multiple other reasons for being involved in “the fraternity.”
Fellowship, spending quality time with quality people. Appreciation for its history and mysteries, allowed to participate in the same ceremonies of our nation’s Founding Fathers. And philanthropy, participating in community events to leave the world a better place...

As each decade passes in my life, I assume that these type of organizations with ancient histories and outdated titles will fade away, even more so in the 21st century. Yet they remain in existence, obviously serving a need of tribalism in our ever-progressive march toward modernity. This convergence presents what I see as an intriguing juxtaposition of old beliefs and contemporary devices.

For instance, in the photo [above] accompanying this column, De Jesus proudly poses with his Freemasons ring, rephrasing a ceremonial refrain, “One ring to serve them all.”
[T]he Glen Park Lodge partnered with Thrivent Financial of Valparaiso to help with a Habitat for Humanity project in Portage. The lodge donated the labor of nine of its members, all skilled tradesmen in the fields of carpentry, electrical, and plumbing. Lodge members include Allen Migliorini, Joe Sheets and Tim Williams. [photo]
“I come from a family that is always looking for ways to help others,” De Jesus said. “I wanted to bring that sense of service to the forefront during my term as Worshipful Master of this amazing Lodge.”

The fraternity’s next project will be Nov. 9, offering free first responder classes to nonprofit organizations in Valparaiso, where the lodge is now located...
Every community, large or small, has an opportunity for your lodge to step up to the plate and make a difference. Back in the days when lodges had larger charity funds, more members, and men in their ranks who were more civically active and engaged on their own, it may have been that your lodge expressed its involvement locally by raising money and writing checks. Or maybe 'everybody' knew that the most important, influential or most visible guys in town making a difference were Masons. That's partially how our reputation was established from the 1840s all the way up until maybe 30 years ago. But we stopped being of interest to so many of those influential men today and we can't rely on the glowing reputation of high-profile members to carry the weight for us any more. 

The first step to reintroducing Freemasonry to our communities now is active participation outside of the lodge room. The brethren at Glen Park are doing just that. It takes work and planning and, hardest of all to achieve, active participation coupled with ongoing enthusiasm.  The great news is that people in your community take notice when the Masons step up and get involved - just like this newspaper columnist did.
“Not just a man, a Mason,” is the organization’s historic motto.
“Not just a mystery, a Mason,” should be our modernized interpretation of this ancient fraternity.
Read the whole article HERE. 

For more about other ways to get your lodge back in to your community's habit and consciousness again, see my post from August:

Thursday, November 14, 2019

17th Paris Masonic Book Fair This Weekend 11/16-17

Albert Mackey once lamented that American Freemasons don't read, and the handful of Americans who have made a stab at being specifically Masonic publishers can tell you it's an ideal formula for going broke slowly. French Masons aren't afflicted with that character quirk. If you've ever visited a Masonic bookstore in Paris you know that the French have an insatiable appetite for books about Freemasonry. Consequently, each year, the Institut Maçonnique de France (Masonic Institute of France) hosts an enormous book fair in Paris for the purpose of promoting Masonic literature throughout the entire French speaking Masonic community. 

It's a shame that we don't have anything similar in this country.

The Salon Maçonnique du Livre de Paris (Masonic Salon of the Book in Paris) on November 16-17 will be its 17th year. This year's venue will again be at La Bellevilloise at 19 Rue Boyer, in Paris' 20th Arrondissement.

From a prior press release:
Organized by the Institut Maçonnique de France, this event is a unique opportunity for all audiences to discover Freemasonry by the prism of culture and literature in contact: from a village composed of the 16 main persuasions of French Masonry of over 60 authors and designers of many publishers of books, magazines, comics.
To answer all your questions, you will be able to meet and attend and participate in ten roundtables, three conferences, as well as the many signing sessions.
The Masonic Salon of the Paris book is free and open to the public
  • 16 French persuasions present
  • 8 round tables
  • 3 conferences
  • dozens of book publishers, magazines and comics
  • scores of authors 
  • books to win
  • catering on site and many restaurants and breweries nearby
What's always been interesting about French Masonry is how diverse (Oy! that word...) it is. While U.S. grand lodges only recognize the Grande Loge Nationale Françaisethe GLNF is NOT the largest or the oldest. There are no less than sixteen substantial grand bodies and obediences of Freemasons at work in that country – male, female and mixed, regular and irregular. And they all participate in this annual literary gathering.

In the U.S., most Masons are blissfully (or deliberately) unaware of obediences outside of their own and those that are declared regular and are recognized by their own grand lodges. In this country, that's pretty easy to do. If you're in a mainstream lodge, you probably don't think very much about it. If you're in a Prince Hall lodge, it's sometimes a tighter circle, but you're still probably at least aware of what the mainstream world is doing, and in all but a few remaining states, you also have options to intervisit. But virtually no one in these two largest Masonic blocs in America have any idea what goes on in the other various independent, female or mixed Masonic obediences here, and all of our paths cross so infrequently (apart from online, perhaps) that the subject almost never arises at all.

That's not the case when it comes to France. Instead of deliberately ignoring each other and pretending that the others don't exist, French Masons tend to be far more cordial and, well, laissez faire than we are. There are numerous cultural and historical reasons for that which simply don't exist elsewhere in the Masonic world. As a result, an event like this annual book fair brings all of them together and gives Masons the opportunity to informally discuss the things they share in common and the ways in which their fraternity variations diverge in a cordial and un-pressured atmosphere. Combine that with the longstanding French tradition of academic curiosity and philosophical thought, and you get an enormous and exciting trove of material  each year that explores Freemasonry's philosophy and history that has no equivalent in the English-speaking world.

On Sunday they will announce various annual literary awards specifically for Masonic books and publications. And this year they've added a new category for Best Masonic Magazine.

For news of the Masonic Book Fair in Paris:

Facebook: the page of the Masonic Book Fair in Paris
Twitter: https://twitter.com/IMFsalonParis
Facebook: the IMF Group: Masonic Institute of France
Website of the Masonic Institute of France: http://i-m-f.fr

A video of the 2015 event can be viewed on the GLNF Facebook page HERE.

By the way, don't be put off by La Bellevilloise as a convention venue. Yes, there is a 
hammer and sickle of the Communist Party over the door. Paris is a very big and very old city, and they tend to reuse old buildings instead of tearing them down as we do in the U.S. The historic building has been home to several different organizations over the decades, which explains the hammer and sickle. 

So no, if you cruised in here looking for dirt, it doesn't mean that Freemasons are Communists. It means the rent is cheap and there's a Metro station close by.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

UPDATE: Who Would Want An Old Masonic Lodge?

UPDATE 11/13/2019: 
I first posted this story a year ago, and just checked it today out of curiosity. This former lodge in Alexandria, Indiana did not sell, and is still on the market currently marked down to $64,000. Just in case you have a hankering to own one of your own. 

Who Would Want An Old Masonic Lodge?  

Got a deep-rooted desire to live in a former Masonic lodge? Twenty years ago, I might have jumped at this.

The former home of Alexandria Lodge No. 235 in Alexandria, Indiana is up for sale for the bargain basement price of just $69,000 (CLICK HERE). The lodge itself was absorbed by nearby Frankton Lodge 607 in 2015, but their former Temple was unique. 

The 11,000 square foot building started life as a private home, and its most recent owners essentially restored the front portion to that original use. 

It has been modernized with five bedrooms and a serviceable kitchen, but its truly magnificent woodwork from the original house is throughout the living areas. Looks like the bathrooms could use a major overhaul, and I see lots of ceiling fans and no outdoor compressor, which make me wonder about air conditioning.

But then walk to the back of the house and you will find the whole lodge room intact and virtually untouched and unaltered, added in what appears to have been the 1920s or so.

If the Hodapps didn't want to downsize our current living arrangements, I'd have snapped it up before telling the rest of you about it. In fact, I'd have snapped it up before telling Alice about it. Then we would have had have plenty of space in which she could refuse to speak to me over it for the next 20 years.

It's located at 414 North Harrison Street in the little town of Alexandria. 

Of course, this isn't the only private residence in a former Masonic temple around here. This one is a manageable size, but a California couple and their three kids decided to take on a much more gargantuan temple to make into a home. 

Huntington, Indiana Masonic Temple now a private home

Theresa and Atom Cannizzaro were originally just looking for a Midwest farmhouse surrounded by a couple hundred acres of land. Then the San Diego couple fell in love with the beautiful former Huntington, Indiana Masonic temple that was originally the home of Amity Lodge 483. They took possession of the building in October 2016, and they've been rehabbing it ever since. 

According to a newspaper article from last year, the Cannizzaros bought most of the original furniture along with the building. 

Amity Lodge moved to a smaller building on the edge of town.

The lodge left behind an entire library of books, paperwork including materials from the building’s 1927 dedication, and other bits and pieces of Masonic history. 

The old lodge room.

The dining hall features a small theater stage at the opposite end. The Cannizzaro kids think of it as the world biggest playroom.

1927 newspaper announcing the Temple's dedication.
Freemasons were front page news then.
The family foresees eventually opening a business in the basement, possibly a brewery. They're in no hurry to finish, and it's truly a labor of love. You can follow their story and their projects at www.freemasontomansion.com.

I just find it fascinating that time after time, private individuals manage to buy, renovate and save the very buildings that entire lodges filled with members claim are too expensive or difficult to maintain. Others seem perfectly happy to keep forking hay at our "white elephants." Why do so many Masons seem so willing to cast them off?